Microsoft Explores Customer Experience Improvement Program

Microsoft has launched a new initiative dubbed the 'Customer Experience Improvement Program' that actively monitors customers' hardware configurations, and how they make use of Microsoft products and services if they decide to participate. This represents an entirely new effort to improve Microsoft software.

Users of a beta version of Windows Messenger 5 are given the choice to opt into the program to provide Microsoft with non-personally identifiable data targeting trends, code failures, their hardware environment, and usage patterns.

According to a company spokesperson, users can "help us focus our work on the features that you use most often, tell us where to simplify our software when it is too difficult and introduce new capabilities that increase your productivity." None of the information secured from customers is gathered without consent, even through acceptance of the end-user-license-agreement (EULA). Users must opt-in each and every instance.

MSN users encounter a popup window (view screen shot) that acquaints users with the program; informing them they “can help make Microsoft software and services better," or participate at another time. In the same dialog, a hyperlink directs users to a set of frequently asked questions, which explicitly state, "No, this is not spyware."

A preview version viewed by BetaNews, had the "yes" radio button selected by default, accompanied by text stating that it is the recommended option.

Matt Pilla, Lead Product Manager for Windows XP, told BetaNews that neither option will be pre-selected by default in the current product as it stands, or in the final version. Once a preference is selected, the link will disappear from the client.

Built-in support tools such as error reporting and remote assistance are already included in all installed versions of XP. However, Pilla maintains CEIP serves an entirely different purpose for support personnel than does Windows XP’s remote assistance. Remote assistance "enables an expert to help a novice troubleshoot specific problems. In that event, the novice contacts the expert," said Pilla. Error reporting assists product engineers to pin point incompatibilities and target bug fixes.

Pilla continued, "CEIP provides Microsoft with user-agnostic information regarding application usage and code failures so we can make application improvements in subsequent releases. We are committed to ongoing product improvement and it is very valuable to get this feedback even in deployment so we can continue to improve reliability and usability for our customers - both in current and future product offerings."

Features on tap for the 5.0 release of Windows Messenger include ink functionality for Tablet PCs, along with the ability to log into Exchange and SIP accounts. Windows Messenger is designed to work with Microsoft's upcoming "Greenwich" Real Time Communications Server, which runs on Windows Server 2003.

This release will catch the instant messaging client up to its consumer counterpart, MSN Messenger, which reached 5.0 late last year. MSN has also offered a glimpse into the future having recently previewed its next generation 6.0 release. The MSN 6 product team assures BetaNews that there will be no prompting to participate in CEIP during setup.

This story comes on the heels an announcement that Peter Cullen of Royal Bank of Canada will join the team at Redmond this July 14th as its new privacy guru, replacing corporate privacy officer Richard Purcell.

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